Genesis 21


AVRAM, ISHMAEL, YITZAAK
Wednesday June 27:
Chapter 21

The main voice of this chapter continues to be the Elohist, but opens with a bit of a visible editorial seam, first from the Jahweh God source affirming Sarah’s conception as fulfilled promise, and from the Priestly editorial voice noting God’s scheduling control, circumcision, and the age of Abraham as centenarian.

Once introduced, the story quotes a couple of old sayings in v.6 and v.7, revisiting the wordplay of ‘laughing’ connected to ‘Yitzaak’ – not just the Jahweh God allegation that Sarah laughed at the divine prediction of geriatric birth.  

Once 2 babies are playing in the same camp, Sarah’s Jealous protection of her son’s rights against Hagar’s Ishmael escalates.  The older Aramaic Masoretic translation from Hebrew does not name Yitzaak in this narrative, but the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate translation adds the name to the end of v.9.

Sarah tells Abraham to throw out slave Hagar and her son Ishmael, and Abraham resists till God reassures him directly, personally and privately as Elohim does in dreams and visions and messengers.  God has great plans for Yitsaak, but also for Ishmael. 

God shows mercy where Sarah denies it, and lets Abraham supply the child Ishmael with bread and water.  When that runs out, Hagar despairs and leaves the child to die in the desert.  Here she finds a well, and relieves Ishmael.  Islamic traditions tell the story with Ishmael digging to find the well, and later marking the event by building with his father Ibrahim around 2000BCE, now the site of Mecca and the Kabah.

Ishmael’s people in Genesis live in the Paran wilderness to the south of Beer-sheba, on the way to Arabia, with an Egyptian wife. Beer-sheba stands in relation between Arab and Jews as a frontier town, and we close with another etiological legend about Abimelech ceding the well to Abraham – though Abraham lives in Gaza as a resident alien. 

What do you make of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ of Arabs and Israelis, Saudi or Egyptian, Christian or Muslim, in our day?  We claim these stories and load them with a lot of freight!